Skin

 

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A well-intentioned but underpowered telling of a real-life story.

 
Skin

Jamie Bell

  

Skin, the fourth feature by the Israeli director Guy Nattiv, is the first to be released here. It marks the third time that he has made a feature bearing the same title as a previous short film of his although the connection between them is not as close as one might suppose. Thus, in contrast to the fictional short of the same name, the new Skin is based on actual events and its central figure, the American white supremacist Bryon Widner, is a real person. The story of how Widner recanted and turned his back on his past life is a timely one: what is depicted here may have taken place more than ten years ago but, given the prominent presence of white supremacists in Trump’s America, the film seems very much of the moment.

 

Nattiv’s Skin is an attack on this form of racism and that gives it subject matter that is very welcome. In addition, one can admire the performances. Our own Jamie Bell - an actor whose status became higher than ever consequent on his turn in 2017’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool - plays Widner and is a strong leading presence. He is admirably partnered by Danielle Macdonald in the role of Julie, the woman whom Widner married. She encouraged him to move away from involvement with the Vinlanders Social Club, that being the racist skinhead gang run in this version of events by Fred and Shareen Kruger (Bill Camp and Vera Farmiga) who in effect became his family. In taking this stance against them Widner would also be influenced by a black activist named Daryle Jenkins (Mike Colter).

 

Clearly, Nattiv’s heart is in the movie but, considering how dramatic the real-life tale is (including the eventual need for Widner to have all the racist tattoos which covered his body removed), it is remarkable that the film is not more powerful. It is to its credit that the film avoids the risk of building up the behaviour of the white supremacists in scenes that could unintentionally arouse the enthusiasm of those that way inclined. But, that said, the screenplay fails to invite real engagement and the many dark scenes probably contribute to that. Widner’s violence is not hidden yet we also see his softer nature in his feelings for Julie and her three young daughters. Nevertheless, while the contrasted sides of his character are revealed, the details of his crucial change of heart are not brought out in their full force. No less typical of the film is its portrayal of a youth (Russell Posner) who is ensnared by the Krugers: the film simply needs to develop the role far more if his ultimate fate is to touch us. For audiences without the foreknowledge that laser treatment will later on be needed to remove Widner’s tattoos the early introduction of scenes depicting this will also be problematic since they could confuse. For the acting and for its message this film is to be applauded, but what should have been vivid and dramatic plays out with far less ability to grip the viewer than one would expect.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Vera Farmiga, Bill Camp, Daniel Henshall. Mike Colter, Louisa Krause, Zoe Margaret Colletti, Kylie Rogers, Colbi Gannett, Russell Posner, Mary Stuart Masterson.

 

Dir Guy Nattiv, Pro Guy Nattiv, Jaime Ray Newman, Oren Moverman, Dillon D. Jordan, Celine Rattray and Trudie Styler, Screenplay Guy Nattiv, Ph Arnaud Potier, Pro Des Mary Lena Colston, Ed Lee Percy and Michael Taylor, Music Dan Romer, Costumes Mirren Gordon-Crozier.

 

Marven Pictures/ Voltage Pictures/Sight Unseen-Lionsgate UK.
118 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 27 September 2019. Cert. 15.